The Charlottesville City Council has voted 3-1-1 to allow the Parks and Recreation Department to advertise for possible tenants for land on the west side of McIntire Park upon which a recreational center could be built.
The only organization expected to bid on the proposal is the Piedmont Family YMCA, which has been conducting a capital campaign to build a new facility. Their first choice is to build in McIntire Park near Charlottesville High School, but the back-up plan is to build at Piedmont Virginia Community College if Council rejects the proposal. Albemarle County will contribute $2 million to the project. If the City approves the lease, the YMCA will pay $1 a year for the next forty years.
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The process raised the concern of Downing Smith, a City resident who said he thought the lease proposal as written on the Council agenda was misleading because there was no mention of the YMCA.
“I still have a really hard time understanding how things work in the City. Don’t you want to figure out whether or not you actually want to lease something before you ask for proposals? It looks suspicious. If you put out a lease proposal, and everybody knows that only one group is going to bid on the lease, what’s the point?” asked Smith, adding that the process seemed rushed.
City Manager O’Connell later explained the first step in the process would be to advertise the lease, even if a tenant is already in mind.
Mike Svetz, Director of Parks and Recreation, said that the process has been going on for several years, and disagreed that there was a rush to judgment.
“We have been to Council eight or nine times in the last three years to discuss the issues associated with the future of our department,” he said. Council feedback from those meetings was incorporated into the lease agreement.
In July, Council also directed Svetz to begin writing up a draft lease. “The very first step is for Council to consider the draft lease, but also the provisions in that lease that deal with the lease agreement. Some of the conditions that City Council would like to see as part of any proposal brought forward.”
City Attorney Craig Brown acknowledged that the lease procedure is unusual, but required by state law because of the length of the agreement. “Legally we can lease City property for a period of up to five years. Any time you go over five years you must advertise it and seek bids before awarding a lease.”
City Manager Gary O’Connell said the same process was also used with the Boys and Girl’s club facility at Buford School, as well as the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Pen Park.
Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he was concerned that the lease agreement was too vague. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions in the user agreement portion of this,” he said. “I kind of think we have the cart before the horse. It talks about the user agreement in here, but I would like to see more detail in here.”
Mayor David Brown asked City Attorney Brown if the details would be contained within the proposals that are submitted as part of the RFP.
“That’s going to be a requirement of the solicitation, that anyone interested in leasing this property agree to the lease and to propose a user agreement,” the City Attorney responded. Hopefully the terms of the lease will be pretty well set but I don’t anticipate that the terms of the user agreement will be. I suspect those will be subject of some negotiation.”
Councilor Kevin Lynch said he wanted to see more detail in the proposal. “We’ve had a fair amount of discussion between Council members about what our expectations would be for what would be in that use agreement. For example, I think it’s fair to say that we would have an expectation that the [Charlottesville High School] swim team would have priority to use that facility.”
Mayor Brown then pointed out that the lease agreement under consideration already covered that particular issue in a note. The note requires anyone entering into a lease to submit a detailed use agreement that lays out how available the center would be to CHS students, who will be within walking distance of the facility.
Lynch said that wasn’t sufficient. “We have some specific ideas about what we’re looking for, and it would be clear to get that on the record.”
Brown said he didn’t want to drag out the issue, and added that the use agreement would be negotiable. “What I’m trying to get at is to not to have a process that’s dragged out for months.”
Councilor Taliaferro said because only the YMCA is going to bid on the proposal, it should be more detailed. “We talked about some issues with it, and I’ve never seen any of the answers to the questions we brought up for it.”
Mayor Brown disagreed, and said the lease agreement contains certain provision that will allow the city to use the facility for athletics. “I would think that a lot of things that we’re asking for, they already know where we are because they’ve attended the meetings.”
Councilor Kendra Hamilton said she did not like the project, but that the lease agreement as written is responsive to the things that were brought up.
“It seems like the minute that we have made an agreement to put a road through our park, suddenly we’re talking about developing a piece of it,” Hamilton said. She added that many people in the community are against the YMCA proposal out of concerns that low-income families will not be able to afford a membership.
“Very good points have been raised that the County is lacking in [recreational] facilities, and maybe this is a facility that should be in the County,” she said.
Councilor Lynch said the discussion of the YMCA needed to be placed in the context of all of the City’s pools. “While I see that we have an obligation to keep the pool facilities, we will continue to have lanes available for laps. Presuming that we hold up our end, I do think that Smith and Crow need to be replaced, and that it would be more efficient to replace them with a single facility then to try to replace two facilities. I think working with the Y, we can do a better job of that.” He then advocated for a replacement of Smith pool, in conjunction with the new YMCA.
Mike Svetz said the Council might be overreaching in the level of detail requested. “If you asked me today exactly how I would program a pool that is yet to be defined in scope and size and number of lap lanes, it would be awfully difficult for me to say the CHS swim team is going to swim between the hours of 3 and 5.”
After certain language about the location of the facility was struck from the lease, a motion was made to proceed. Councilors Lynch, Brown and Dave Norris all voted to proceed. Taliaferro voted no. Hamilton abstained. The lease will now be advertised in the Daily Progress on September 20 and September 27.
FUTURE OF OTHER CITY POOLS
At a July 9 work session held at Key Recreation Center, Council said they wanted to make service at the City’s neighborhood pools would not be affected. Specifically they wanted to know the future of the City’s existing indoor pools at Smith and Crow pools. Those issues were raised by members of the public yesterday evening.
City Resident Sandra Stamp expressed concerns that the replacement pool at the YMCA would not include enough lap lanes. “I don’t know how many of you City Councilors are regular lap swimmers, but many of us swim almost every day of the year,” she said. “City Council should truly look at how many lap lanes will stay open. At this point, the information being given to us is that with the Y, there will not be nearly the same number of lap lanes.”
County Resident Ann McClung said she’s used the City pools at Smith and Crow for decades. “We need to still have the facilities available to all the public, and if you turn over the pools to a private organization such as the Y many people will not be able to use the facilities,” she said.
“Our current pools are set up as six-lane 25 yard pools, and really from a programmatic stand point, there are many more modern ways to go about doing that,” he said.
Svetz said he will bring a report on the future of neighborhood centers at Council’s meeting on October 15. Part of that report will include a conceptual site plan for a new indoor swimming pool at the Buford School to be run in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club.